- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (AP) — A hurricane watch was posted yesterday along the South Texas coast as Tropical Storm Claudette crawled across the Gulf of Mexico, and campers packed up and left low-lying South Padre Island.

The storm was expected to make landfall at near hurricane strength as early as tomorrow, said Miles Lawrence, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

A hurricane watch was in effect along the Texas Gulf Coast from Port O’Connor, about 70 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, to Brownsville and south along the Mexican coast to Rio San Fernando.

Yesterday afternoon, Claudette was centered about 315 miles east of Brownsville, with maximum sustained wind blowing at 60 mph, 14 mph shy of hurricane strength.

It had been almost stationary for several hours, but was expected to resume moving toward the west-northwest at about 5 mph, with a gradual turn toward the west today, the hurricane center said.

“The circulation is strengthening,” meteorologist Jesse Haro said at the National Weather Service in Brownsville. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to move any faster toward us; it simply means that it’s becoming a stronger storm.”

Owners of about 900 recreational vehicles parked for the summer on South Padre Island were warned that wind of more than 25 mph would mean that they would not be allowed to drive their rigs across the one bridge to the mainland. By yesterday, most of the campers had packed up voluntarily and left.

Workers on South Padre, along the coast a few miles from Brownsville, piled sand into berms at beach accesses, and Mayor Bob Pinkerton said the resort community was bracing for high water.

Mr. Pinkerton said, however, that there were no plans yet to evacuate.

On the mainland in the Brownsville area, Cameron County officials advised residents of low-lying areas to leave, and employed jail inmates to stack sandbags and clear out drainage ditches.

The tropical storm swept over Mexico’s resort city of Cancun early Friday, battering high-rise hotels with high wind, flooding several streets and forcing the closure of the international airport for several hours.

Claudette is the third tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. It developed Tuesday in the Caribbean, brushing Jamaica’s southern coast with heavy rain and rough surf, battering the Cayman Islands with waves and above-normal tides and scattering rain over parts of Cuba before reaching Mexico.

Experts have predicted a busy Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

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